Conservation Revenue Shortfalls on the Horizon

A recent report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows the continued decline in the number of Americans who hunt. Currently, only about 5 percent of people 16 and over hunt, whereas it was nearly double that five decades ago. Less people acquiring a hunting license has created funding problems for state conservation programs, because hunting licenses are a major source of funding for state conservation efforts. In fact, license sales alone account for more than one third of conservation funding.

State environmental and conservation programs serve many purposes. For example, programs monitor animal populations, poaching, invasive species, parks, campgrounds, trails and many others.

To make up for reducing revenue from licenses, some states use lottery funds for conservation, and some are attempting to use sales tax funds. Others have sold novelty license plates.

Many state legislatures are already facing general budget shortfalls, so state natural resource departments have been forced to make changes. Over the last few years, multiple states have increased licensing fees and some have also made program and staffing cuts. In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources made cuts to multiple programs, including habitat management, warden patrols and fish stocking. Additionally, they have also kept vacant positions unfilled for longer periods of time.

This all comes as participation in wildlife recreation increases. As discussed in the report, over 86 million people engaged wildlife recreation, such as birdwatching or outdoor photography, which is up approximately 20 percent from just 2011.

However, of the $75.9 billion spent to participate in wildlife recreation last year, the vast majority does not contribute to conservation efforts. That is because nearly 90 percent of the funds goes toward equipment, food, transportation and lodging.  

With the decline in hunting license revenue likely to persist, states will continue to face more difficult decision-making in the future.